Nevada LegislatureSocial Justice

Activists Confront Republican Legislators on State Budget Blockade

Minutes after State Senate Republicans voted against another pair of essential budget bills, progressive activists rallied outside the Legislative Building to call on Republicans to end their budget blockade. The activists then took this message inside the Building… And directly to Republican Senators.

Today, the Senate voted on a two more critical budget bills. One ensures the state’s public servants are paid for their work (AB 517). The other is a general appropriations bill that funds everything from higher education programs to state courts and Meals on Wheels for Nevada’s seniors in need (AB 518). Up until this week, these programs and budgets had solid bipartisan support.

Yet today, Senate Republicans all voted against these two budget bills. Why?
Photo by Andrew Davey

That was the question activists were asking at the rally outside. Battle Born Progress Executive Director Annette Magnus kicked off the rally with an update on what happened inside. “Just a couple minutes ago, [Republicans] voted against funding Meals on Wheels! […] Enough is enough. We won’t stand for it!”

Magnus then reminded the crowd why Republican legislators began their budget blockade on Thursday: “We don’t want our public money going to private schools!” She and the other speakers condemned Republicans’ threats to take down the state budget if they don’t get $60 million in direct state funding for school vouchers (SB 506).

Republicans ran, but they couldn’t hide.

The activists took things one step further and went inside the Legislative Building to search for Republican Senators and ask for answers.  The group had no luck catching Republican Senators in their offices, but they eventually found Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson (R-Henderson). Vivian Leal from Reno tagged along with him as he raced to Senate Judiciary Committee.

Did Vivian Leal get her message across? “He was hearing me, but he was not listening.” Regardless, she felt it necessary to speak with Roberson and his fellow Senate Republicans after they defeated a bill that included funds for Northern Nevada Veterans’ Home and other critical state infrastructure needs (SB 546).

Photo by Andrew Davey

Leal then visited the office of her own Senator, Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno). Leal wanted to know why he participated in the Thursday walkout, and why he is still voting against state services his constituents needs. All he told her was,“We’re still working on it.”

“Vouchers are just one issue. Don’t take everything hostage. Try to find common ground.”
– Vivian Leal, Reno

Leal was not the only person inside the Legislative Building who was upset over Republicans’ intransigence. One of Kieckhefer’s colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee also asked why he and fellow Republicans would vote against the very budget items they and Governor Brian Sandoval (R) have supported all session.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Senate Finance Committee Chair Joyce Woodhouse (D-Henderson) asked why her Republican colleagues launched this sudden wave of budget turbulence. “We’ve gone through 118 days working on this budget. Everyone on the committee heard every single proposal, voted on them during committee, but did not vote for the bills on the floor. That was disappointing.”

Woodhouse stated Sandoval and Republican legislators knew where Democrats stood on vouchers. “We were firm in our position that we were not going to fund ESA’s with general fund dollars.” Still, all sides seemed ready to reach an agreement on a more limited voucher program that utilized private funds… Until Republicans dug in their heels at the eleventh hour.

“We need for state government to function. We have a lot of citizens we are responsible for.”
– Senator Joyce Woodhouse

But now that Governor Sandoval insists there will be no need for a special session after Monday, Woodhouse expressed hope that her Republican colleagues will return to the table and pass the budget. In the meantime, everything from UNLV and UNR engineering programs to Medicaid health care services, Meals on Wheels, and state worker pay is in limbo.

Vivian Leal had some advice for Kieckhefer and the other Republican Senators. “In my home, we teach our kids not to walk away when they disagree. […] They’re trying to block bills instead of listen to the people. These bills have bipartisan support.” The Nevada Legislature had just over 48 hours left to reach a budget agreement. There’s really no time left for anyone to just walk away.

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